Teaching Design: How Can Scientific Discoveries in Neuroscience Improve Design Education?

Presented by: Mary McDonald Price

This paper proposes a revised model of interior design education based on amending existing teaching methods to incorporate the fundamental aspects of learning, memory, reward, decision making, synaptic plasticity, spaced learning, willpower, and active learning as revealed by recent findings in the field of neuroscience. In a sophomore design studio, design problems were altered from previous years to emphasize and exploit information about memory, creative thought and decision making. Through a double-blind process students were given different instructions and critics were asked to identify and evaluate differences in subsequent design solutions. By mapping the theory that design education can be improved through optimized use of brain function, the paper proposes changes in design pedagogy. Neuroimaging can change how we teach design.The biological sciences are informing design, and existing practice, with new information about how the mind functions. Some sociological theories used in architectural education are becoming discredited. Others, like Kevin Lynch’s work on wayfinding have now been proven. Introducing recent neurological information about how the brain makes design decisions and interprets design can be integrated into design pedagogy to scientifically optimize the learning experience and transfer information to our students. In the field of Embodied Cognition, the human body is seen as merely an extension of the brain. The argument is being made that we understand the world through the sensations of the body. Perceptions of light and shadow, space, water, sound, hapticity, proportion, scale, and even time can be remembered by neurons throughout the body. Neuroimaging devices show how we actively engage our world. We now know that color is processed before form in the human mind. We also know that architecture engenders emotional response, with emotions overriding our conscious awareness. Information is coming to light about how the brain catalogs, stores, retrieves and combines memories. For one to think creatively, one “must develop new neural pathways and break out of the cycle of experience-dependent categorization.” What tools do we have to develop these new neural pathways? Electroencephalography is a non- invasive technique where an array of electrodes placed on the scalp record the brain's electrical activity or “brain waves". We know that creative thoughts are formed when knowledge in one domain is used to help organize knowledge in another. Thoughts in one area of the brain serve as models, or metaphors, for solving problems or forming solutions in another. During the creative process information and memories are recalled from many distributed areas of the brain, where they were stored at the moment of the experience occurred and are joined with each other to create new concepts. Design pedagogy has traditionally employed metaphor as a means to develop design concepts or partis. Metaphor assists designers in seeing how one problem or idea, is like another. The knowledge that creativity by metaphor is now known to mimic the activity of human thought, reinforces its use in teaching the design process. This is just one example of how "design thinking" or the design process has been affirmed by scientific findings. Neuroscience has already provided information that can significantly enhance the understanding of the Design Process. The revelation of brain function is informing how design is made; how design is understood, and for me, how design should be taught.


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